UPA spin doctors keep misinforming the Indian people that the 123 Agreement shall have no impact on Indian nuclear weapon programme. They were contradicted, among others, by Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee who told press corps at New Delhi: ?(The deal) will limit the size and sophistication of India'snuclear weapons programme.?
On April 27, 2008, the PTI reported: ?Opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal, BJP Leader L.K. Advani told on Sunday [April 27] to Asianet channel in an interview that no country can give in writing that it will not undertake nuclear tests in future. No country can…has any other country said that hereafter we will have no further tests? Has US given any such undertaking; has any other country which has so much nuclear weaponry said it in writing? It is one thing to voluntarily give it up but to say it in writing as part of a treaty is another.?
Above was reported in the media on April 28. Another report said that some top former diplomats and strategic experts have termed it as ?factually incorrect?.
Arundhati Ghose, India'sformer permanent representative to the UN during the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, said: ?This is factually incorrect. All five nuclear weapon states have signed the CTBT. Russia, the UK and France have ratified it. The US, China and Israel have also signed it, but they haven'tratified it.?
K. Subrahmanyam, noted strategic analyst who had been convener of the National Security Council Advisory Board in the BJP-led government, was also quoted pointing out that 178 nations had signed the CTBT, including three of the nuclear weapon states which have ratified it.
Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary and former Ambassador to USA also differed pointing out: ?There is no explicit undertaking in the 123 Agreement that India will not conduct further tests. In fact, it gives circumstantial justification to look into the nuclear tests (in case of such an eventuality).?
Referring to BJP assessment that the 123 Agreement in effect bans future nuclear tests by making it prohibitively costly nipping our nuclear military programme and compromising our strategic independence, a daily editorially commented that ?unfortunately, this is simply not true?the 123 Agreement does not stop India from conducting a nuclear test. The Hyde Act, which Advani quotes with such indignation, is not binding on India, and is a domestic issue to be thrashed out in the United States… Political leaders are not expected to know the policy implications of every issue. But they could surround themselves with advisors who do.?
One may note that all participants in this nuclear debate including Advani have all along been airing their views in context of the India-US civil nuclear energy agreement which is a bilateral agreement. This bilateral context is very much expressly there even in the April 27 statement of Advani as the opening line in the PTI despatch is ?opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal?.
Advani is correct in saying that no country desirous to retain its foreign policy autonomy in a bilateral agreement has given up its sovereign right to conduct nuclear tests. Above experts have quoted a multilateral agreement [CTBT] to contradict Advani which is neither sound nor fair. There may be some bilateral agreements in which a client state has given up its right but such agreements cannot be quoted to question this statement of Advani as these countries are camp followers of a major power having military ties and basking under its nuclear umbrella which in respect of India is not acceptable either to the right or to the Indian left.
It is technically correct to say that the 123 Agreement does not expressly ban future nuclear tests by India but makes cost of doing so prohibitively high making it an ornamental right. So practically speaking it is as good as banning the future tests by India. And political parties and leaders are accustomed to speak in practical terms. Neither the Constitution of India nor rules of a hotel explicitly bar a poor person from dinning at costly hotels, so, he has legal right to dine at seven star hotels. Practically speaking it is his theoretical right as high costs would always bar. Similar is the position of future nuclear tests by India under the current text of the 123 Agreement.
Dr Manmohan Singh government has been rightly telling the Indian people that India is a nuclear weapon state as a result of Pokharan-II but what it does not tell the Indian people is that in negotiations with the IAEA it has been meekly using the INFIRC 66 format which is used by non-nuclear weapon states.
Brajesh Mishra, a former National Security Adviser to NDA government has also opted to contradict Senator Biden'sassessment. Appearing on Karan Thapar'sDevil'sAdvocate programme for CNN IBN [April 27] Mishra said: ?I think we should go ahead with the deal. Having promoted the deal in India and abroad?after all, our negotiators have been talking to various countries in the NSG?having promoted the deal so much and so strongly, not to go through with it is a loss of face for the Government of India and for India.? Mishra said that he has met various government officials and scientists and has concluded that the deal would not impact India'sstrategic programme or impose a ban on carrying out nuclear tests in the future. But in the same interview so as to have an escape route Mishra says that the 123 Agreement will have some impact on our strategic programme but it will not be major. To quote Mishra: ?After the talks I?ve had with various representatives of the Government of India at a fairly high level and some scientists, I?m convinced that there is not going to be any major impact on the strategic programme through the deal.?
Well first thing in diplomacy is that international agreements are not made for sake of the face of a government or for sake of personal friendships. In US democratic primaries both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama have pledged to renegotiate NAFTA so as to prevent job losses in USA. People'sinterest takes precedence over face of a government.
The Indian fast breeder reactor programme is about ten years away from commercial utilisation and it would require plutonium as input fuel so the necessity of India to have the right to reprocess spent imported uranium fuel. The present text of the 123 Agreement does not allow India to reprocess imported uranium.
Advani and the BJP have all along been rightly opposing the current version of the India-US civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. In August 30, 2007 press release Advani has clarified: ?In my interview, I sought to emphasise that the provisions of the Hyde Act militate against India'ssovereignty?in particular, in regard to the conduct of our foreign policy. When enforced, they will seriously impair our nuclear weapons programme, and thereby jeopardize our strategic objectives. The 123 Agreement is the first step towards operationalising the Hyde Act, and other US laws. Several of the requirements of those laws have been built into the 123 Agreement. Moreover, the Agreement specifically provides that, in implementing it, the party concerned?the US in this case?shall be governed by its national laws. Hence, provisions of the Hyde Act and other relevant laws shall apply with full force. These facts are indisputable?and just as unacceptable. They push the country not into a ?strategic partnership? with the USA but a ?strategic subservience? to the USA, which the BJP cannot accept.?
Apart from other objections, the fact is that the present text of the 123 Agreement is defective as its some articles are contradictory to other articles; for example, Article 2 says purpose of this agreement is to enable ?full? civil nuclear energy cooperation but Article 5 excludes cooperation in enrichment and reprocessing etc.; Articles 2(e) etc assure US cooperation to help India build strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply over lifetime of India'sreactors, but Article 5(4) stipulates that supply will be need based to run a reactor; etc. The Hyde Act shall guide actions and reactions of US officials handling India'snuclear trade therefore it would be ostrich-like to ignore this Act. So unlike the UPA, the right as well as the left are fully justified in not ignoring the Hyde Act. The Hyde Act lays down at least 13 foreign policy objectives for US officials to get India follow. This US Act also impinges upon India'snuclear trade with other countries vide its sections 101(3), 101(5) and 108(b) (3). The way the 123 Agreement has been formulated India'senergy security will become hostage to politics of the NSG members. Thus the position of Advani on this issue is both sound and correct.
[The writer retired in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India in the Indian Foreign Service (1971 batch).]